This region’s MPs have collaborated with opaquely funded lobbying firms from Tufton Street and beyond, the impact of which could have disastrous personal consequences for the region’s constituents and for society as a whole.
Daily work of a lobby firm
Lobbying is a legal practice that has existed in politics for generations. The term itself is potentially a 17th-century reference to the lobbies of the Houses of Parliament.
In essence, lobbying is attempting to influence an MP with regards to a legislative issue, often through providing financial support. Any individual can lobby their MP about issues that they feel are important. But when ‘lobbying’ or ‘lobbyists’ are mentioned in the news, it usually isn’t members of the public being referred to.
Lobbying organisations often appeal to the public through appearances on programmes such as Question Time or in other mainstream media outlets. Nobody illustrates this trend better than Kate Andrews, appearing on Question Time in 2019 for the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), then appearing again more recently in her new role at the Spectator.
The residents of 55 Tufton Street
The Westminster address ‘55 Tufton Street’ hosts some of the most well-known lobby firms and think tanks, and for many people it appears to have become a byword for the entire lobbying industry.
Prominent Tufton Street firms include the Centre for Policy Studies, the IEA and the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). These vaguely named firms, sometimes set up as educational charities – as in the case of GWPF – attempt to drive narratives in anything from Brexit to HS2.
When asked about the address by Emily Maitlis on The News Agents podcast, the IEA’s Mark Littlewood said: “We aren’t based at 55 Tufton Street, which I think has now become a concept rather than an address.”
Why are they so controversial?
The foremost reason these firms are often so viciously disparaged by left-leaning commentators is that the positions they take are inconceivable to those corners of the media. In recent months, opposition campaign groups Just Stop Oil and Led By Donkeys have focused their protests at 55 Tufton Street. The former gave the exterior of the building an improvised orange paintjob, with the latter fitting the address with a new sign reading, ‘The UK economy was crashed here’, in reference to the now infamous Truss mini-budget.
The funding of most lobby firms is hidden, making many people uncomfortable, as they don’t know whose interests are being furthered. This is often the main issue taken up by former Labour Party communications director Alastair Campbell and James O’Brien, LBC radio host. Both are prominent figures in the movement attempting to hold Tufton Street to account.
O’Brien’s vigorous criticism landed him in an Ofcom tussle with the IEA but he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
So far this might feel, to quote Dominic Cummings, very “Westminster bubble”, but although often linked to the incumbent Conservative government, lobbying is not a party-specific or uniquely right-wing issue. The impact of Tufton Street and their friends can be seen rippling through the North West.
MP Graham Stringer
One Tufton Street regular, particularly on Brexit and climate change, is the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, Graham Stringer. Across Europe, research paints climate change scepticism as an almost exclusively a right-wing issue, but Stringer bucks this trend as a long-standing unpaid trustee of GWPF.
GWPF brands global warming a ‘contested science’ on its donations page, and the group lobbies against what they see as harmful environmental legislation. Their charitable status has recently been referred to the Charity Commission by a cross-party group of MPs.
Despite mission statements appealing for balance, a glance through the GWPF website reveals a palpable tone of bias, with recent reports such as, ‘UK weather has become, if anything, less extreme’ and ‘Polar bears continued to thrive in 2021’.
This matters not only to Stringer’s constituents but to the country as a whole. Since 2017, he’s been a member of the parliamentary science and technology committee, which holds inquiries that directly impact the UK’s environmental strategy. There’s no public information on who’s funding the research and policy suggestions that Stringer is taking to this committee.
The influence of firms with vested interests over politicians is not a new phenomenon, but it takes on a fresh importance in the climate crisis. Driving climate policy in the wrong direction could be detrimental to a world which the UN says is still not on track to reach net zero, even if current government commitments are met.
GWPF state they don’t accept donations from significant interests within the energy sector, but this is disputed by the Guardian.
The Betting and Gaming Council
Of course, not all lobbying firms are based in Tufton Street, one such example being the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). Unlike many lobby firms, BGC are open about who funds them. They claim to represent 90% of the UK’s gambling industry, attempting to highlight the positive steps already taken by the industry to discourage any further, and most likely stricter, regulations. They have a clear vested interest in limiting the strength of gambling regulation.
They also fund North West MPs’ lavish trips to sport and music events. This has included £1,164 to take Scott Benton, Conservative MP for Blackpool South, to the Brit Awards with hospitality, and £2,481 on hospitality at Ascot Races for Labour MP for St Helens North, Conor McGinn.
Both Benton and McGinn have been members of an all-party parliamentary group on gambling, with the former chairing the group, and the latter having been forced to resign following the leak of the group’s reports criticising the Gambling Commission for making suggestions to reduce addition.
The BGC also spent £998 on two tickets to an Ed Sheeran concert for Sir Mark Hendrick, Labour (Co-op) MP for Preston, and £444 on hospitality at the Ivor Awards for Labour MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford.
Gambling in the North West
The North West has the second highest prevalence of at-risk gamblers in the country and hosts, in Liverpool, an area with one of the highest concentration of betting shops in the country, a well-established issue in poorer areas. Sadly, Benton often argues against further regulation which could help prevent gambling-related harm.
It has been estimated that anywhere between 4% and 11% of suicides in the UK are related to gambling. Delay in further protections for consumers is having real-life consequences not only for problem gamblers but also those who rely on them local to Benton’s constituency.
With the cost-of-living crisis in full swing, many of those most affected could be reaching breaking point. This didn’t stop the Blackpool South MP arguing in parliament in June against the need to make it compulsory for betting companies to contribute financially to research into reducing gambling-related harms.
Benton’s main concern was the cost to businesses, no doubt an important industry in his constituency, but with little consideration for harms estimated to cost the country £1.27bn every year.
Rather than seeking a balanced solution for gambling firms and problem gamblers, in a constituency that has often mooted expanding its gambling industry, Benton devoted his parliamentary time to interrogating the legitimacy of this research, likely much to the delight of his friends at BGC.
MP Sir Graham Brady
And then there’s the Centre for Policy Studies, of which Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale, is an unpaid director. The Centre for Policy Studies, founded by Margaret Thatcher, advocates a reduction in government involvement, to promote free-market thinking.
Interestingly, they funded Brady’s £762.45 three-night hotel stay during the Conservative Party Conference. They advertise a ‘Corporate Partnership Programme’ in search of financial backing, but don’t publish who’s funding their research projects.
The Centre for Policy Studies markets itself as a centre-right lobby firm that produces policy papers on topics ranging from taxation to the environment. Previously, they’ve published papers such as Why every serious environmentalist should favour fracking. Fracking has had worrying implications for residents less than an hour from Brady’s constituency, causing multiple seismic tremors in breach of government-set limits. With former PM Truss having reignited the fracking conversation, Brady’s North West neighbours will hope the Centre for Policy Studies doesn’t force the issue too fiercely.
According to a testimonial on the Centre for Policy Studies website, former cabinet minister Sajid Javid said: “The [Centre for Policy Studies] played a very important part in [forming] my principles and values.”
Who does your MP work for?
Javid is unlikely to be alone in allowing lobby firms to influence his politics. If these opaque firms are adept at embedding their ideals inside of the minds of the most senior politicians, how much do they influence lower-profile MPs from this region?
The lobbying of North West MPs is impacting not only constituents in the region, but also the wider environment.
At a time of economic and environmental crisis, constituents need level-headed objectivity from their politicians. Whose money could be meddling with the mind of your MP?